BOGOTA -- News that a tired and ailing Pope Benedict XVI had decided to put aside the burdens of the papacy and resign resounded throughout Latin America.
Monday’s news came less than a year after Benedict visited Mexico and Cuba and as he was gearing up for a July visit to Brazil, nominally the most Catholic country in the world.
The resignation also comes at a time when talk of a new pope from the developing world, where the majority of the world’s Catholics live, has gained momentum.
“The church has moved to the Southern Hemisphere,’’ said Andy Gomez, who sits on the Archdiocese of Miami’s synod, which is currently reviewing the church’s mission.
In terms of Benedict’s successor, “I think this will come down to the Northern Hemisphere vs. the Southern Hemisphere,’’ said Gomez, who is also a senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “The world has changed and what is important is being able to relate to the world’s Catholics.
“I would personally hope for a more progressive pope. I don’t see very many progressive Italian candidates but there are progressives in Latin America and Africa,’’ said Gomez, who took part in the Archdiocese of Miami’s pilgrimage to Cuba for Benedict’s visit.
Of the 118 cardinals eligible to be the next pope, 14 are from Latin America, including three from Brazil, three from Mexico and two from Argentina.
Some are on the papal shortlist, but it may be premature to think of a New World pope, said Father Hermann Rodriguez, the dean of theology at Bogotá’s Jesuit Javeriana University.
“I just don’t think it’s likely that we’ll have a Latin American or even an American pope,” he said. “The church still has its center of power in Europe, even though there are candidates from all parts of the world.”
However, 42 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America.
Rodriguez predicted the church’s top job would go to one of the 28 Italian cardinals who are in the running. But in breaking with that tradition, the last two popes haven’t been Italian. Benedict is German, and John Paul II was from Poland.
Rodriguez praised Benedict’s decision to step down — an event that hasn’t happened since 1415 with the retirement of Gregory XII — as a way to keep the church dynamic. In announcing he would be leaving Feb. 28, Benedict said that “both strength of mind and body are necessary’’ for a pope in today’s world of rapid changes.
“I think he showed admirable wisdom,” Rodriguez said. “I take my hat off to his sensitivity and intelligence.”
One of the pope’s milestones during his eight-year tenure was his visit to Cuba last March. His visit was eagerly anticipated, but was less politically transformative than some had hoped.
Still, hundreds of thousands of Cubans turned out to greet Benedict whose visit coincided with the 400th anniversary year of the discovery of a small wooden statute of Our Lady of Charity bobbing in the Bay of Nipe. The virgin became Cuba’s patron saint in 1916 and the original statue is displayed in a shrine at El Cobre.
“The resignation of Benedict XVI is a great surprise, and at the same time an invaluable lesson in humility,’’ Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, said Monday.